Pitt, Duke look to reverse slumps in ACC Coastal matchup
By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Both Pittsburgh and Duke can take solace in one thing: One of them has to win Saturday.
The Panthers visit the Blue Devils in a matchup of slumping Coastal Division teams. Duke (4-3, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) has lost three straight while Pitt (2-5, 0-3) has lost five of six and has yet to beat a team from a power conference.
“I think guys have not lost faith,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “They believe. And it just takes time. We’re a different football team than we were a year ago.”
At times, the Blue Devils have looked like the same team from a year ago — when they won just four games.
They’ve been stuck on that number since last month’s win at rival North Carolina. Since then, Duke has lost to No. 8 Miami, Virginia and most recently Florida State — the latter two by a touchdown apiece.
“I hope that we have the quality of young people that they’re more resilient than” to let the losing streak bother them, coach David Cutcliffe said. “It’s not a matter of how you arrive at 4-3. The mentality is, you’re 4-3. You learn from the mistakes you’ve made, you learn from the good things you’ve done. … Moving forward, you don’t focus on what you don’t have, you focus on what you’ve got to do.”
Simply put, the Blue Devils have to score more — and so do the Panthers.
Pitt ranks 12th in the league in scoring, averaging 23.3 points, and has scored only one second-half touchdown in conference play. That scoring average is down to 18.6 points in those five losses to major-conference opponents, and a ground game that averages just 95 yards rushing is a big reason why.
The Blue Devils’ average of 28.4 points ranks 10th in the league and they have generated just two sustained touchdown drives in their last three games.
Maybe playing each other will help: Since the Panthers joined the ACC and made this an annual matchup, the winner each year has scored at least 31 points.
Some things to know about the Pitt-Duke game:
TWO QBS? Pitt will start Ben DiNucci at quarterback but Narduzzi plans to play first-year freshman Kenny Pickett, calling DiNucci “our guy” but adding that “we’ll see how it goes from there.” Pickett — who was supposed to redshirt this season — played three series in the second half against No. 20 North Carolina State last week.
QB QUESTION FOR DUKE: Daniel Jones is firmly entrenched as the Blue Devils’ starter, but backup Quentin Harris took a few more snaps than usual against Florida State. Most of Harris’ playing time has come in short-yardage situations, but Cutcliffe put him in at other times in an attempt to spark the offense.
DEPENDING ON DAMAR: Pitt sophomore safety Damar Hamlin is starting to deliver on his considerable promise. The former four-star recruit struggled to find a role and consistent playing time as a freshman but picked up a career-high eight tackles against the Wolfpack as part of a secondary that is markedly improved from the group that finished 127th in the nation last year. Narduzzi called it “a new world for him.”
TJ’S BACK? Duke WR T.J. Rahming found some things to build on in the loss to Florida State. A week after he caught only two of the 10 passes thrown to him, Rahming made eight catches for 111 yards — including a fingertip grab of a 57-yarder on third-and-long that prolonged the Blue Devils’ lone touchdown drive. Rahming led the team with 70 catches in 2016.
WELCOME BACK, COACH: Duke will honor former coach Steve Spurrier for his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Spurrier went 20-13-1 in three seasons, leading the Blue Devils to their most recent ACC title in 1989 before moving on to Florida.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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